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Nail artist Chieko Ishijima

by Judit Kawaguchi

Chieko Ishijima, 25, is the manager of Brilliant Nail Shibuya, a salon next door to the Marui and Seibu department stores, smack in the middle of one of Tokyo’s hubs of young fashion. She quickly painted and sculpted her way to the top of the highly competitive nail-art industry with intricately layered designs incorporating semi-precious stones and super-cute designs made from acrylic. Once on a customer’s fingers or toes, her miniature flowers, bows and anime characters are works of art that speak for themselves. Ishijima herself says she just loves being face to face with customers and adorning their nails with some of her handiwork.

Nail artists are model makers, sculptors and architects, all trapped in one body. We create long, perfectly shaped nails and make sculptures by adding layers of gel, airbrushed designs, 3-D artwork and decorations.

The most interesting process in life is the discovery of how things are made. When I eat Japanese sweets, I always wonder how they were created. When I see the Egyptian pyramids or Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, I try to figure out how they were built.

In Japan, “customization” is the key word for any product or service. We have about 1,000 design samples, but every client wants her own original design, often something seasonal or specific to an occasion or outfit. Everyone wants to stand out from the crowd.

Nail art suits the Japanese spirit very well. Japanese people love miniatures: We have origami, netsuke, bonsai and haiku, which are all tiny expressions of beauty. But what we love the most is when a miniature reveals a detail inside that is also perfectly executed. For example, a model car whose door opens to show an immaculate interior and an accelerator pedal that moves.

If everything becomes too cheap, we’ll all have to pay for it dearly later on. The deflationary spiral is really killing the Japanese economy. I can’t feel very happy when I see how inexpensive products and services have become because I worry about the future. Even though we try not to succumb to it, to some extent we have to in order to survive. Luckily for me, luxury services such as nail salons are surviving.

In an environment of peace and prosperity, people can afford to think of nail designs. Fortunately, Japan is a peaceful country, so we can focus on how to make ourselves happier and prettier. I feel a little embarrassed when thinking of those places where women can’t afford to spend time and money on themselves. We’re blessed, that’s for sure.

Nails are not the ends of your fingers but the beginning of your beauty. When your nails are well-groomed, people will happily eat out of your hands. You will notice people’s eyes will follow your movements once you have gorgeous nails and toes.

In Japan, anything goes, so fashion escalates. In Tokyo, young men wear mini skirts, women on the street dress up like Rihanna or Lady Gaga, and everyone has tons of cute characters on their mobile phone straps and bags. There’s really no limit to what you can do in Japan. So fashion escalates a lot, and only age, if anything, might slow it down. Nobody judges us or sets limits for us.

Once you have your nails and toes done, your deportment will improve. You will be more elegant because you want to show off your hands and feet. We see our nails all the time, but we notice them more once they are decorated.

Beautiful nails can be weapons of seduction, but Japanese women get their nails done for self-satisfaction. Or they want to appeal to other women. It’s not for men. Japanese women’s primary goal is to be beautiful for themselves and second is to show off their nails to other women. What husbands or boyfriends think of their nails doesn’t really matter. If it did, we wouldn’t use so many elaborate designs, which don’t appeal to men much.

If you want to change your inner life, you can start immediately by changing the outside. If your nails are radiant, you become dazzling, too. Nails are not only a reflection of the self but they can affect your mood. If your nails are a mess, people might assume that your whole life is like that, too.

Exercise your weak point and it’ll get stronger. I used to be very shy, but a silent nail artist is no fun, so I had to improve my communication skills. I am now good at conversation ? but only when I’m leaning over someone’s hands or feet.

If your family is against what you want to do, win them over by showing dedication. I began painting nails at age 17. By 18, I knew I wanted to be a nail artist, but my parents were very much against it. “You can’t make money! Be a hair stylist instead,” they said. They had never seen a nail salon so they were worried. I didn’t argue, but kept practicing. I did the nails of all my friends, classmates, their moms, everyone, and for free. I even did my mother’s and sister’s. They all loved them and soon my parents came around.

Well-groomed, attractive girls are smart and successful. All our clients work hard and spend their own money on their beauty regimen. If a woman has beautiful nails, she cares about herself and can afford to.

When the competition is very tough, it’s actually good for our industry. There are about 20,000 registered nail artists in Japan, and most are very good at their craft. Exceptionality all comes down to communication skills.

Being beautifully groomed is a lot of fun. Both men and women look better with great bodies, good hair and fashionable clothes. Women are lucky because they can also use makeup and nail art to improve how they look and feel.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/